I sold our restaurant in the Mission. We will be moving The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen out of our space at the corner of 20th and Harrison at the end of April.
I am super excited for the new owners; they have a strong culinary reputation and bring a truly unique Edomae sushi experience to one of the coolest micro-commercial corridors in the city. I know they will do sensationally well and I am confident they will be an excellent addition to the neighborhood. I can't wait to eat there when they open.
The American has enjoyed four incredible years in Mission Creek. We've established unforgettable relationships with our customers, our community, our staff, and other small business owners. It has been one of the most fun and challenging professional and personal experiences of my life; I learned more than I ever expected to.
So thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you.
The American has also enjoyed several profitable years of operation thanks to your continued business and my team's hard work.
I've had a lot of people ask me: "Why sell? Your store is profitable and you have a strong reputation in the neighborhood. You have a growing company and closing is a risk to that."
Short answer: I received an offer I couldn't refuse.
For the long answer...keep reading:
This is a decision I've been wrestling with for the last year, as I was approached by several potential buyers who wanted to take over our corner restaurant's lease. This was one of the hardest business decisions that I've ever had to make. Aside from the buyer's purchase offer being a very good one, there are several key reasons. And this is the honest-to-gosh truth; I owe that to you all:
First off, I have an updated growth strategy for The American. I just opened our third restaurant at 799 Battery Street (@ Broadway) in the North FiDi, right at the border of North Beach. The service model and menu is modeled mostly after our South Park location which is our first store and the flagship location that propelled Heidi Gibson (co-founder, chef, my wife, cookbook author, and national grilled cheese champion) and me to our "celebrity grilled cheese status". As a restaurateur, I have learned that the model at our South Park location is a much more scalable model and the type of restaurant I want to operate.
At its inception, our Mission location had a different model in mind: we expanded the menu beyond grilled cheese to more classic American dishes, we added evening service, and we experimented with brunch, happy hours, and late-night pop-ups. Though successful by many means, the business case was not compelling enough, and the profitability not as attractive as that of our first store, and to date, our third store.
For those of you that have ever managed a restaurant, you are likely all too familiar with the daily successes and challenges. Even though often times the successes outweighed the challenges in this location, as we thought about our growth and sustainability, the challenges the Mission location presented us were not challenges we wanted to continue to manage on a daily basis. Our resources could be re-focused to where we really shine - at our two downtown locations; and our expanding catering, and large-scale events business (we served close to 10,000 grilled cheese sandwiches at a Super Bowl event in February, for example).
The Mission store model didn't fit our larger plans, and I had to reconsider.
Secondly, I became increasingly bearish on the amount of business generated by online delivery partners. I have nothing bad to say about the Caviars and Postmates of the world. They are incredibly valuable partners, and delivery is an essential piece of any restaurant's revenue stream these days. If you don't have a delivery partner, you're giving up easy money. These companies have made significant strides over the last couple of years to be more merchant-focused in their efforts and support their restaurant partners' missions, as well as their own.
But when too much of the customer experience that I and my staff hold so dear - that we spend hours pontificating about, training, and perfecting - is literally transferred into someone else's hands (and their motivation to deliver MY product and experience may be completely different than mine) it started not to feel perfect. Something didn't feel right.
Lastly, our lease is coming up for renewal in a year. We have an exceptional landlord: they are supportive, responsive, and are fair with our rents. But as I considered our growth and the business model with which to grow, signing a lease extension for another 5, maybe 10 years, also didn't feel right.
This was our time to move on.
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen has no debt and is owned 100% by its founders and partners. We funded the opening of our Mission location with a very generous small business grant from JP Morgan Chase/ LivingSocial. The grant was likely the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me (except for when I met Heidi). With the sale of the Mission location, we will re-purpose that capital into our current growth plans.
I lament that the people likely to lose the most from the sale of the restaurant is the incredible team we've built - a dedicated staff of professionals that have been working by my side since we flipped a former Cafe Gratitude restaurant in 2012. We've stuck it out through the good times and the bad, and ran a solid operation. We created an amazing culture together and served a lifetime of grilled cheese sandwiches: "over one million served", and that's a fact. At this point, I know we're close to two million grilled cheeses served.
We've employed up to 14 people for 4 years at this location. I care for them dearly. We are doing our best to ensure they continue to be employed at our other stores, and we can continue to offer them our above-average industry wages, benefits, and standards.
And to our community and friends: we will really miss you at this location. Especially our everyday visitors and all the families that joined us after AYSO soccer games across the street. Personally, we're not going anywhere. Heidi and I live in the neighborhood and we climb at Mission Cliffs 3-5 days/week. Our other two stores are not too far away and we'd love to host you there. If you're longing for our food and don't want to travel to one of our stores, you can always order delivery from one of our partners, or buy our cookbook (yes - that was a shameless plug) and make a fresh grilled cheese and smoky tomato soup at home.
I'm not asking for sympathy and I'm not pointing fingers. I am fully accountable for my decision, and I am proud of my decision.
The only thing I am more proud of is what we've been able to accomplish at 2400 Harrison Street.
On behalf of myself, Heidi, and Team American; we love and appreciate everyone who has been a part of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen - Mission location.
Thank you all for being part of this grate journey; we camembert-ly wait to see you and serve you soon.